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The Importance of Self-Care Among Nurses

Written by Emily Pazel

 

Near the end of a long, demanding shift, do you ever contemplate why you got into the nursing profession in the first place? Sometimes, it’s good to reflect on your life and make sure that you’re taking care of yourself physically and mentally, as self-care can go a long way to benefit your overall well-being.

The most important thing is: You have to be able to take care of yourself first in order to take care of others.

So, here are a few tips and tricks to help.

Addressing your physical health

 

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Your physical health is more important than you think. And maintaining the right balance between work, diet and exercise, can be more complicated than one can imagine. Between performing examinations, administering medications and providing the best patient care all day, it can be hard to do what’s right to keep your own body healthy.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) believes that “when nurses are supported to be healthy, patients receive care at the highest levels, and nurses benefit from a better quality of life.”

Due to the fact that nurses work shifts, it leaves them more vulnerable to weight gain due to a few reasons. First, the sheer physicality of the job could lead to eating more and exercising less. And the fact that it disrupts a person’s body clock could lead to a less healthy lifestyle.

However, there are a few simple steps that nurses can take to help these issues:

  • Eat a balanced diet – Eating a healthy, balanced diet with whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables are a good way to start
  • All in moderation – Eating and enjoying sweets and foods rich in fat aren’t always bad, if done in moderation
  • Portion control – When you live in an all-you-can-eat buffet world, it’s hard to remember that eating reasonable portion sizes can make a huge difference
  • Less snacking – Some people snack when they’re bored or watching TV; as difficult as it can be, it’s better to not snack in between meals due to the intake of extra calories
  • Drink water – Instead of drinking sugary drinks (including fruit juices), drink more water; your body needs about a half a gallon of water each day to stay hydrated
  • Get active – Although this can be difficult to do, exercising at least 30 minutes a day can vastly improve your health

Becoming a little more active and eating healthier isn’t always easy to accomplish, but your body will thank you later. Another part of your body that needs a regular workout to stay strong and active is your brain. Your mental health is also a huge part of taking steps in the right direction towards your overall well-being.

Keeping your brain sharp

Have you noticed that you’re forgetting things more easily? Or can’t recall someone’s name during a conversion? You’re not alone. Memory lapses start occurring as the body ages and these are due to “normal changes in the structure and function of the brain,” according to an article published by Harvard Medical School.

Although these changes can be frustrating at times, it’s important to know that there are some things you can do to help protect and keep your mind sharp:

  • Keep learning – Especially for nurses, attending in-service training, taking continuing education courses and reading nursing journals and magazines are all great ways to challenge your brain with mental exercise
  • Use all your senses – It’s been proven that the more senses you use in learning, the more of your brain will be involved in retaining the memory; so, challenge all your senses when venturing into the unfamiliar
  • Believe in yourself – People who believe that they’re not in control of their memory function are less likely to work at maintaining or improving their memory skills
  • Economize your brain use – Use things such as calendars, planners, maps, shopping lists, file folders and address books to keep routine information accessible
  • Repeat what you want to know – When you want to remember something, repeat it out loud, share it with your peers or write it down

Keeping the brain – one of your largest and most complex organs – healthy is vital on your journey of self-care preservation. As a medical professional, sharing knowledge with your peers and students and making suggestions for changes that can improve your workplace are all a part of using your brain.

So then, what happens when you and a coworker have a disagreement? How does your work atmosphere affect your overall health? Let’s find out by discussing how your emotional health ties into everything.

Caring for your emotional health

When you work in a demanding field, such as nursing, it’s not always easy to overcome stress and the emotional baggage that comes with the job. Things such as burnout, compassion fatigue, depression and poor work-life balance are at alarmingly high levels for today’s nurses and healthcare professionals. So, what can you do to help relieve those symptoms and cope with stress? Here are a few ways to help you improve your emotional health:

  • Recognize triggers, change the script – Find out what triggers negative thoughts, learn from it, and then rewrite it; so, the next time someone starts to disagree with you and you start to have a negative thought, take a deep breath and think about all the positives of the situation
  • Start a journal – You don’t have to be a professional writer to start a journal; keeping a journal can help keep track of stress symptoms you’re experiencing daily, such as anxiety, irritability, trouble sleeping or concentrating, or habits like nail-biting or over eating
  • Thinking positively – Be empathetic towards others; everyone makes mistakes and has bad days – try to be more understanding and think positively when someone or something triggers a negative thought
  • Engage in physical activity – Daily physical activity cannot only help improve your physical health, but also your mental health; try to get outside for a walk with the dog, practice yoga or get a membership to your local gym; 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week has been proven to help your overall well-being
  • Getting sufficient sleep – Scientists have proven that your body needs at least 7 hours of sleep, which allows you to refresh your mind and allows your body to repair and heal itself
  • Stay in the present moment – It can get overwhelming thinking about the future and holding onto guilt about events from the past, which can lead to unnecessary stress; if you ever find yourself in this predicament, try chewing a piece of gum and counting the number of chews it takes before the gum runs out of flavor
  • Meditate – Even if it’s just for a few minutes, meditation can calm your mind and ease anxious, negative thoughts; it’s even been proven that meditation before bed, can help the body to relax and sleep better
  • Engage in a hobby – Find something you’re good at outside of work; whether it’s dancing, knitting, playing a sport, writing, singing or playing a musical instrument, all of these things can help enrich your life; volunteering can also be a great way to spend your time while giving back to your community or others in need of help
  • If necessary, get help – When you start to feel overwhelmed and it’s interfering with your ability to do average daily tasks, it’s a good idea to seek help from a professional who can help you strengthen your coping skills

Sometimes, it’s necessary to disconnect from your virtual world in order to be able to engage with the real world. Technology is always advancing and can, at times, be overwhelming and take our attention away from what’s right in front of us. It might be good to just turn off the phone, computer, or TV for a day or two, and engage with your friends and family around you.

It can be hard to separate your professional and home life at times, but it can be necessary in order to prevent career stagnation and burnout. Take a step back for a minute and ask yourself: Are you exercising enough each day to keep up with your physical health? Are you taking preventative measures to keep your brain healthy and active? Are you doing enough to maintain a positive attitude and overall mental well-being?

Remember, as a medical professional, in order to take care of your patients, you must first take care of yourself.

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